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Paperback Israel: A History Book

ISBN: 0688123635

ISBN13: 9780688123635

Israel: A History

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Book Overview

"The most comprehensive account of Israeli history yet published." -- The Sunday Telegraph

"An epic history . . . a picture of an Israel that persevered and prevailed, that was determined to survive and was unwilling to trust its independence to others but sought peace whenever possible." -- Foreign Affairs

Israel is a small and relatively young country, but since the...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Point-of-view not an issue

Gilbert notes occasions in which Jewish leaders asked Arabs to remain in their villages (p. 172, for instance), and occasions in which the Arabs were effectively turned out (p. 218, for one). He recounts the efforts of several Arab leaders to induce Arab flight (p. 173, among others). He graphically depicts the ugliness of the refugee movements (p. 218, etc). He talks about Israeli looting (p. 220) and the States efforts to stamp it out. He describes some solid military justifications for forcibly evacuating Arab villages (p. 177, and others). He reveals the Israeli decisions to appropriate the land of Arab refugees for Jewish settlement(p. 256, etc), Jewish opposition to such measures (same page) and the enormous population pressure of incoming Jewish refugees which made such measures critical (p. 261, among others). He documents the internal conflicts of the new State, including those within its divided armed forces (p. 211, and others). He shows self-serving division among Israel's Arab neighbors (pp. 241-242, etc). He chronicles United States support for Israel (p. 445, 460) but also many occasions in which the United States pressured Israel on various issues, including withdrawing from occupied areas and accepting Arab refugees. (pp. 232, 255, 414, 457, 458). None of the page lists is exhaustive, merely representative. Gilbert glosses over nothing. He shows both sides of every question. He never tacitly accepts a simple solution to, or explanation for, a complex problem. It is my opinion, having read the book, that any perception of favoritism toward Israel is actually an uncomfortable awareness (based on well-documented facts) that Israel, for all its mistakes, has been the victim of ingrained hatred and constant aggression, and that her successes have ultimately been the result of the dedication and brilliance of her own people.

An excellent history of Israel

This is a very readable and informative history of Israel through 1997, and it includes some excellent maps. It does have a point of view, of course, as Gilbert relies heavily on British and liberal Jewish sources. But it does not omit any major elements of the history of the region. Gilbert uses his sources primarily to obtain facts, not opinions. The book begins with the start of modern Zionism, with the first settlements starting in 1878. But we quickly get through World War One and into the British Mandate period. Although Gilbert is British, he does not hesitate to describe the infamous British White Paper of 1939, which caused a Jewish revolt that led to the establishment of Israel. Nor does he avoid discussing the ships that tried to run the British blockade in World War Two. And he admits that after the war, in spite of Labour Party promises to make the Mandate a Jewish state, the Labour government instead did the opposite, and became obsessed with the idea of preventing Jews from getting into the Levant. There is a very good description of the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. And a thorough history of Israel from then on. We see Israel grow as a nation. We see wars in which Israeli succeeds on the battlefield only to lose diplomatically. And Gilbert shows exactly what these diplomatic losses mean. They do not mean merely the loss of a few homes or land or money. They mean more war. Each diplomatic loss hurts because it gets the Arabs to attack them once again. And we see how Israeli self-restraint coupled with international demands on Israel for even more restraint generally wind up causing more violence, not less. Gilbert is to be congratulated for showing how this has occurred. The only weak points of the book are the most recent four years. These deal with the Oslo "peace process." Gilbert, of course, wrote the book before he knew how events would pan out. And he wound up guessing wrong. That caused him to lack perspective on the significance of Arab insincerity at Oslo, or the significance of the assassination of Rabin. For example, when Israel opened a door to a tunnel in the Muslim quarter of the Old City in 1996, Gilbert quite properly puts the actual act in perspective. All it did was improve things for tourists, giving Muslim shopkeepers a benefit. But there were Arab riots. Here, Gilbert, with the perspective we have years later, probably would have seen these riots as provoked only by Arabs. But in this book, he's too close to the situation, and looks for Israeli errors. This book has few obvious errors. Given how awful some of the more biased histories of Israel can be, this one is a very good place to start.

Superbly Presented Historical Research.

Drawing on his vast experience of this subject Sir Martin Gilbert has documented a superlative history of Israel which is extremely thorough and accurate.This study surveys in some detail the first 50 years of Israel's history following the nation's re-birth in 1948. The book also tells of the involvement of the nation's pioneers and founders extending back into the latter half of the nineteenth century, together with many stories pertaining to the individuals who contributed to the re-birth of the Jewish state and to it's very survival during the ensuing conflicts.The book begins with a chapter entitled "Ideals For Statehood" and describes how, since the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70AD, Jews dispersed throughout the World have prayed for a return to Zion. "Next Year in Jerusalem" being the hope expressed at the end of every Passover meal. Later in the book the incredible hostility towards such Zionism is addressed.The book initially describes the "considerable Jewish activity in Palestine" as the nineteenth century came to an end and extends to the Balfour Declaration and the work towards a Jewish homeland in Palestine that the latter promised. Unfortunately the book lacks any appropriate or real attention to the creation of the state of Transjordan in 1922 and how this affected the eventual rebirth of Israel. An issue where Britain detached 78% of the original area of Mandate Palestine to create another Arab entity in order to satisfy Arab aspirations for independence. This area east of the Jordan was thereafter called Trans-Jordan, and remained legally part of the British Mandate until 1946, when it was declared an independent Arab state, renamed Jordan in 1953. (Jordan then comprising 78% of Mandate Palestine with the vast majority of Jordanians being Palestinians.). The latter, although not discussed in detail here is evident from the contents of the book. Maps illustrating the issue further.The book on page 37 reveals that the potential of the land following the First World War, (on which fewer than a million people were living on both sides of the Jordan), was regarded as enormous. The reader is shown how less than 10 per cent of the land was actually under cultivation at that time with no Arab needing to be dispossessed, or their rights infringed, for the "Zionists" to make substantial land purchases. The considerable Jewish population already in the land is also mentioned, together with reference to the Arab violence against these Jewish populations even in 1919. Coverage also being given to the increase of this violence through the ensuing decades as Jewish immigration increased with any attempt to reassure or compromise with resident Arabs being rejected. Violence, riots and Arab general strikes described as attempts to stop any influx of Jews to their ancient homeland. The contents further describing how the rise of Hitler to power in Germany during 1933 affected the situation pertaining to Jewish immigration an

Fabulous book!

I wondered whether or not this book, as long as it is, would hold my attention. It certainly did! I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to learn about the history of modern-day Israel.The author starts at about 1897 with the "Zionist Movement," and continues through about 1997 and the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin. He quotes frequently from biographies of such persons as Golda Meir, Shimon Peres, and other influential Israelis.The only beef I had with the book was I wished the author would have gone into more detail on such events as the Israel attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor, the rescue of the hostages in Uganda, and the attempted rescue of the Israel Olympic athletes in 1972.After reading a history such as this it just astounds me that Israel is still in existence, after (at times) almost the entire world is against it. Surviving five wars in less than 60 years of existence (and ususally outnumbered), it is a vivid testimony to God's preservation of His people. Yes, Israel has made some mistakes (both morally and tactically), but there's not a nation on earth that hasn't. It is also in the unusual position of being the most hated nation on earth.The book is well written, and seems to have been researched extensively. Again, I couldn't recommend it more for someone wanting to learn of Israel's history.

Peace Beyond the Pale

The history of modern Israel is a search for security and peace -- an elusive, tragic search at best. Martin Gilbert's history can be viewed as slanted toward Israel, but that would miss his point, which is that Israelis have self-consciously wished for and worked for peaceful and fruitful co-existence with their neighbors and with the Palestinians from the beginning. Certainly, there have been grave misdeeds by Israelis (and Arabs) that have resulted in senseless loss of life. But if we go off on that track we will never see what Gilbert's point really means. What both sides would likely acknowledge is that the idea of peaceful coexistence has been more seriously entertained by Israelis than by Arabs -- Palestinian and otherwise. If this book is one-sided then it is so because because Gilbert has revealed this critical asymmetry in a way that has not been made clear before. The book is overflowing with details, anecdotes, portraits and asides that lend it an splendid depth. Yet the author never indulges himself in the sort of speculative forays that might confer color to his work at the expense of careful historical analysis. As a result, there is a critical neutrality toward the facts, with a minimum of bias, emotion or polemic. Perhaps the most emotional part of the book surrounds the events leading up to the assassination of Rabin, a masterful, moving account the whole world should read. Gilbert does not provide an argument for the Labor party or a brief against the Palestinians. Instead, he draws out the tragic dimension of a lost opportunity for peace in a part of the world where peace seems always beyond the pale. In the end, this is a hopeful, though sober and cautious work, and certainly not a book that favors one or the other side. It is a book that should be read by both sides, not with the aim of quibbling about who is represented more favorably, but to see how fragile is the chance for peace and how a knowledge of this brief history of Israel can aid in the efforts to bring about stability and justice for all in this long-suffering part of the world.
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